MOVA(R) Contour(R) Facial Capture System Recognized With Academy Award(R)

Former Mova Team Members Receive Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards

Early Mova Capture Rig, March 2007 Click here for high-resolution version

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwired - Jan 21, 2015) - The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized Mova Contour Performance Facial Capture technology for its achievements in making photorealistic computer-generated faces not only possible for motion pictures and video games, but practical in a robust, consistent pipeline. The Award caps a 17-year journey of motion capture development starting in 1997, to Mova Contour's first public release in 2006, to Mova Contour facial capture used for the Academy Award-winning visual effects in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in 2008, to a long series of movies that followed using Mova Contour, including "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and "Gravity," and finally today with Mova Contour technology honored with a 2014 Science and Technology Academy Award.

As performance motion capture technology matured into the early 2000s, skeletal (body limbs) motion capture became increasingly robust. But no practical and precise solution existed for facial capture, where deformable 3D motion of the human face could be tracked to a level of accuracy where it looked real. The human visual system is so attuned to noticing flaws in the human face that an almost perfect computer-generated face with the slightest imperfection not only was noticeable, but was unpleasant to watch, a reaction known as "The Uncanny Valley." Efforts to use conventional marker-based motion capture not only involved very intensive manual work flow, but the results could only be used for cartoonish faces, never for a realistic human face.

Mova was determined to develop a cinema-quality, practical solution -- and it took Mova almost a decade to get there. Over a hundred different approaches were investigated and over a dozen were implemented. Every Monday through the many years of development the entire team, both technical and creative, would meet to report on results, learn from failures and share new ideas. Almost every approach tried resulted in a dead-end, but finally through years of painfully learned lessons, and the application of knowledge across fields as diverse as complex mathematics, real-time parallel software, real-time networking, optics, sensors, electronic shutters, psychophysics, fluorescent strobes, high-voltage electronics, phosphors, make-up and dyes, Mova Contour's first practical photorealistic facial capture system came to life.

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Mova Contour facial capture technology was introduced at the Siggraph Computer Graphics Conference in July of 2006. But even a few days before the conference, it wasn't working at all. Up till then, testing had been done with small numbers of cameras and lights -- not enough for production quality. When a full complement of cameras and lights were attached to capture production-quality images to show at Siggraph, it overloaded the circuits in the Mova office (shared with the then-young Android and Facebook startups). Steve Perlman had an electric car, so the Mova system was relocated to Steve's garage to run off the high-current car charger circuit. Still, with so many cameras on the speed-rail truss, the system wasn't producing usable results, and the deadline for completing Siggraph materials was only a few hours away. Having worked around the clock for days, the team was beyond exhaustion, and it looked like all the years of work had been a waste.

It was a moment of truth for the team. None of the team had much production experience; they were exhausted and out of time, standing in a hot, dusty garage with nothing working. Who were they to presume they could revolutionize performance facial capture for the motion picture industry? It looked like the Siggraph debut would be a bust.

But it was at this moment, despite utter exhaustion and down to their last hours, the Mova team rallied. They decided they did presume they could revolutionize performance facial capture. They dismantled the truss, and replaced it with steel pipes rigidly wedged between the garage floor and the ceiling, and mounted the cameras. There was barely time to meet the deadline for Siggraph materials. They captured the shot, started processing the data and waited, Mova's future resting on the resulting 3D animation.

The result wasn't simply good, it was breathtaking: a computer-generated mesh that tracked a human face so faithfully that the 3D animated face looked completely real. The Uncanny Valley had been conquered. An entirely new medium of expression had been opened up for actors, filmmakers and video game makers. And... they just barely made the deadline to get materials out for Siggraph.


Rather than a colossal failure, Siggraph 2006 was a colossal success. What they had captured in that garage was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. Top directors and visual effects artists came to Mova with projects that would otherwise have been impractical or impossible to do. Mova was offered the opportunity to collaborate with incredibly talented and creative people. Of course, like anything new, it took a few years before there was wide awareness of Mova Contour's potential. But, over time, Mova Contour became increasingly mainstream, and Mova had the honor of working on a wide range of major productions, capturing faces of dozens of actors at shoots around the world.

"I'm unspeakably proud of the Mova team," said Steve Perlman, Mova Founder, President and Tech lead. "Despite years of long days and late nights overcoming one seemingly insurmountable challenge after another, the team refused to give up on the dream of a practical, photorealistic facial capture solution. The stunning 3D faces created by incredibly talented visual effects artists who have used Mova Contour are far more amazing than anything we had dreamed could come from our work. But to see Mova Contour recognized by the Academy is an honor far, far beyond what we had ever imagined as we were endlessly cranking through code, hardware, 3D models and thousands of tests to bring Mova Contour to life. But here we are. Awesome work, team! You made history."

Mova is deeply humbled that its work has been recognized by the Academy. The Mova team stands in the shadow of the pioneering visual effects legends that have gone before them and have inspired their work. Mova understands that the Academy could not recognize everyone on the team with an award, and had to make its decisions based on limited information covering a very long project development timeline. As such, Mova would like to publicly recognize and congratulate everyone on the pre-launch Mova team whose creativity and commitment, and above all, courage, changed the face (literally) of motion pictures and video games forever.

The pre-launch Mova team and their development roles:


Steve Perlman: Mova founder and tech lead, software, hardware, algorithms, optics, sensors, electronic shutters, psychophysics, fluorescent strobes, phosphor, systems, networks, producer, legal, finance
Tim Cotter: software, algorithms, optics, sensors, electronic shutters, systems, networks
Roger van der Laan: software, hardware, optics, sensors, electronic shutters, fluorescent strobes, phosphor, systems, networks
Ken Pearce: rigging, MEL scripting, texturing, rendering, animation, cleaning
John Speck: software support, motion capture lead, phosphor, systems, networks, make-up, test subject
Greg LaSalle: motion capture technician, audio recording
Lisa Cohen: make-up formulation, make-up, test subject
Kelly Tunstall: dye formulation, test subject
Eric Peltier: videography, editing
Lisa Cooke: producer
Allan Ievers: systems and networking
Sterling Sun: technician
Robin Fontaine: video producer, make-up
Ted Barnett: business development
Cindy Ievers: finance, legal

Productions incorporating licensed Mova Contour performance facial capture:

Gravity (2013)
Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
The Avengers (2012)
John Carter (2012)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
Green Lantern (2011)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
TRON: Legacy (2010)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)

About Mova
Mova (, a Rearden Company, is the pioneer of Academy Award®-winning Mova® Contour® performance facial capture technology, delivering robust, precise 3D performance facial capture. Mova has provided photorealistic facial capture for a wide range of major motion pictures, including the Academy Award®-winning "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and "Gravity." Mova's next generation surface capture technology, supporting not only motion pictures and video games, but virtual reality experiences, is currently under development.


Mova and Contour are registered trademarks. Mova Contour facial capture is protected by U.S. patents 7548272, 7567293, 7605861, 7633521, 7667767, 8194093, 8207963, 8659668, international patents, and patents pending.

A Rearden Company
355 Bryant Street, Suite 110
San Francisco, CA 94107

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